PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rickie Fowler walked into a restaurant wearing a beanie pulled down over his ears. The look was not unusual for someone his age.
It was the location. He was in the tropical warmth of Hawaii.
All eyes were on him — especially the young people — when he removed his cap and all that hair spilled out. After dinner, he stopped by to chat with a PGA Tour rules official and was introduced to the others at the table, including a teenage girl. Too shy to ask for a photo, the girl tweeted about her chance meeting. Moments later, her eyes widened as she stared at her phone.
Fowler had replied to her tweet.
He had another fan for life. There are countless others.
Gestures like that have endeared Fowler to so many fans even as he was accumulating so few victories.
Winning was a long time coming for the 26-year-old Californian, and he bagged a big one last week at The Players Championship. It was his second PGA Tour win in 137 starts as a pro, so there is still some catching up to do. The manner in which he won — no one had ever gone birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie over the final four holes on the TPC Sawgrass — will make one victory feel like five. It brought instant credibility when he sorely needed it.
"It's only going to help move me forward," Fowler said after his playoff win over Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia. "This will definitely give me momentum going into the U.S. Open and making me feel confident about being in this situation and taking care of business."
But that's Rickie Fowler on the golf course.
He's been a superstar off the course for the last six years, and there was nothing overrated about that.
"Fun, energetic, a great talent. He's got a loving side, a caring side," said Bubba Watson, who found a loyal friend in Fowler. "He's got every quality you'd want. You can say any nice word, and he is truly that person. And very few people go through life like that."
Fowler was blessed with so many ingredients for stardom.
His amateur career included a 3-1 record on one of the best U.S. Walker Cup teams in recent years (six players from that 2007 team have won on the PGA Tour). His lost in a playoff in his second PGA Tour event as a pro, easily got his card through Q-school and became the only American to play in the Ryder Cup as a rookie.
And he had style.
His endorsement with Puma made him a colorful figure — orange on Sunday — with those flat-bill hats. They became as popular as the swoosh, filling a void when Tiger Woods was missing chunks of time. Fowler brought an X Games personality to the button-down sport of golf with his background riding motorbikes.
"I think being in those situations, where I grew up racing dirt bikes and being in a little bit more extreme situations, being up in the air and doing stuff that players don't normally do, in a way makes me feel more comfortable in some of the situations as far as being in contention," he once said. "Just because I've probably scared myself a little bit more than is possible on a golf course."
For all his thrill seeking on a motorcycle when he was a kid, there was always a softer side to Fowler.
His father, Rod, who raced motorcycles as a pro before Rickie was born, described an upbringing where the glass was half full even if it was bone dry. When his son began to take golf seriously, they talked about only the good shots he hit. There was no need to remind him of the others.
His father also detected early that his son was a people pleaser.
"When he was about 5, we'd go up to the mountains and ride and he was always worried about the cops," Rod Fowler said late last year. "I used to tell him, 'Don't worry about the cops. That's on me. You've got Dad with you.' But he never wanted to get in trouble. If anything, he would keep me in line."
And maybe that's why the magazine survey of anonymous players stung so much.
Fowler and Ian Poulter each received 24 percent of the vote as the most overrated player on the PGA Tour. Neither is true. If anything, Poulter is an overachiever. Poulter also has a polarizing personality, which surely contributed to the number of votes.
Fowler is immensely popular with his peers, not to mention the fans. PGA Tour players have a jealous streak in them, and it probably didn't help that Fowler was billed as a rising star with two victories worldwide. Never mind that he beat Rory McIlroy in both of them.
Fowler is No. 9 in the world, still miles behind McIlroy in every category (majors, wins, world ranking). But this will help. He is The Players champion and the fans' choice. It's a good combination to have.